Fronting a band as legendary as the Thrash Metal trio Destruction for the better part of 31 years is probably not easy but Marcel “Schmier” Schirmer has managed to do so with passion and professionalism. Following a four year hiatus, Destruction returned to UK soil in order to celebrate with us fans three decades in the music business as well as to promote their latest studio album entitled “Spiritual Genocide”. With a vinyl bag full of Destruction-related items in one hand and my faithful recorder in the other, I met and had a very enjoyable fifteen minute conversation with Schmier during which we discussed the band’s current status in the music industry, the state of Thrash Metal in the year 2014 as well as the band’s plans for a new studio album in 2015.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Hi, Schmier. Nice to see you again. You know, every time we meet I really feel that I have to pinch myself to make sure that our chat is happening. You see, the first time I saw Destruction was in Athens back in 1989 and I still remember how, following a very successful show, it was announced to us that you were leaving the band! With that in mind, it is a great pleasure to have you sitting opposite me and talking about all Destruction-related activities.
Schmier: I see (laughs).
- Well, you guys have finally managed to come back to the UK and you are here to promote your latest album “Spiritual Genocide” – an album that is almost two years old now. As you’ve had the chance to perform these relatively new songs live how do you perceive them these days? Did you find that any of them have acquired a different character, so to speak, from the time when they were first conceived?
Schmier: I think it’s true to say that songs always tend to change along the way and an album almost certainly ends up sounding different a couple or so years after it is first conceived and there is absolutely nothing that you can do about that. I do, however, feel that “Spiritual Genocide” ended up pretty much sounding like we intended it to. There are some fresh and interesting-sounding ideas in the album and it was the second time that we had Vaaver (Wawrzyniec Dramowicz) behind the drums and he was more part of the record this time round. That was perhaps the biggest change in relation to the process we followed for “Day Of Reckoning” (2011). We actually still play a couple of songs from the new album live, an album that now feels pretty old to us, and these songs look like they will remain part of our live set for quite a while. I mean, it is difficult for any band like ours with a thirty one year history to create a stable set list so we always try to move songs around and keep our performances interesting, trying new stuff here and there. So, we have a basic set list of thirty, forty songs that we can choose from. As I said, from the “Spiritual Genocide” album we’re currently playing two songs.
- Schmier, in recent interviews you have been fairly vocal with regards the abilities of your new drummer Vaaver and how happy you feel about him being a part of the band. What is it specifically about him, about the way the approaches and performs the band’s classic material that made him the right choice for the band?
Schmier: Vaaver is what you would describe as the ‘whole package’ really. He’s a very good musician, a very cool guy that we can talk and agree on things with and who tends to see things in a way similar to ours and since he joined the band there is a much better, cooler atmosphere on the tour bus. He is also a very reliable person when it comes to drumming and drinking… (laughs), as well as other things.
- When Destruction made their major comeback with “All Hell Breaks Loose” back in 2000, part of the band’s fan base was not very supportive over the sound and the style used by the band. I think it probably took a good two to three albums in order for you to convince this section of your fan base that Destruction were here to stay and that you were deserving of their attention and support. Most of the reviews that I read in relation to “Spiritual Genocide” were pretty positive indeed which raises the question as to whether this is the album which successfully managed to merge together Destruction, both old and new. What are your thoughts on that?
Schmier: Yes, I agree with what you say; “Spiritual Genocide” does combine the Destruction of both old and new. We decided to change our producer for this album and aimed towards being relatively up to date without messing too much with the classic Destruction sound. The gap between those two worlds doesn’t have to be too big, you know? As an evolving musician you have to try and bridge that gap but you have to do it your own way – if you listen to other people’s advice on how to best achieve that then you will most likely fail. Our aim was to become Destruction 2.0; be the old-school band with the same power and passion we had back in the day but also aiming toward being up to date with regards things like production quality and our status as a band otherwise we would not be able to remain competitive. There are many band nowadays whose aim is to try and recreate the 80s sound; that is an interesting attempt that’s bound to fail! We have chosen to follow the way already described to you which is bound to cause controversy. When we did “Thrash Anthems” back in 2007 there were people who were happy with our modern take on Destruction classics while other were saying in reviews and letters that we simply cannot re-record these classics. Well, if anyone is allowed to re-record these classics then it sould be us, as we were the ones who wrote them in the first place. Don’t tell the band what it can or cannot do as we are that band and if you don’t like what we do then do not listen to us anymore – it’s as simple as that. Having said that, we had plenty of messages of support with regards “Thrash Anthems”, with people loving it and talking about it so I guess there are cases where it takes time for people to understand certain things and to begin appreciating them. This band is moving on and is clearly not losing its identity. I mean, name one other Thrash band out there that is still doing fu*king Thrash the same way that they did back in the day. Even the most successful German Thrash Metal band, which is Kreator, are still playing Thrash but they have changed a lot over the years, especially the last couple of albums. I think that the best way for any band is to look forward, not to keep looking backwards all the time.
- Of course, after thirty one years in the business the last thing you want to do is to regress. I am sure that, had you wanted to, you could easily have written another five “Infernal Overkill” albums and, much as I love that album, it would be missing the point. It is, however, very amusing to observe younger bands trying to sound like you did three decades ago while you are desperately trying to avoid that. A very interesting paradox.
Schmier: That’s so very true.
- Tonight you are sharing the same stage with three young bands, some of which do sound dangerously 80s…
Schmier: Oh yes, you can definitely say that (laughs).
- Well, I’m pretty sure that there were moments where you would be standing at the side of the stage watching their performances and thinking to yourself “what are these guys doing”.
Schmier: Yes, of course. And the similarities do not end with the sound but also on the way that these bands look, dress, walk, act – it’s basically like looking at yourself in the mirror and it is interesting for us to realize that there is a whole scene of young kids out there who are doing that very same thing. We need to wait and see how these kids will do, whether they will manage to evolve and develop their own style and finally be their own band. I hope that one day bands like Kreator, Destruction and Sodom and all the other Thrash bands world-wide will see the new generation of Thrash bands finally step up and take charge of things. So far none of the new Thrash bands out there has released what you would describe as a ‘new classic’. I see a lot of talent and a lot of energy out there and in the next few years I am hoping to see some more originality by new bands with a bright future ahead of them. At the beginning it is, of course, very difficult for anyone to sound original – these things take a while to happen.
- You, however, have managed to achieve the most difficult thing as a band which is to re-brand yourselves. For a band that’s been around for so long, staying relevant is the biggest challenge of them all. How did you guys manage to do that? How do you manage to play in a festival as massive as Wacken in a non-headlining capacity and still fill the arena with people after all those years? What’s the secret to Destruction’s success?
Schmier: I don’t know really. You have to be honest with yourself and stay true to your roots and try to do your best. If you try to sell yourself as something you’re not then it’s not going to work. We were always happy in being ourselves and people respect that. There are quite a few bands in the Metal scene who have a career in music but they don’t really like what they play and that simply doesn’t work at the end of the day. Our goal as a band has always been to do exactly what we felt we wanted and not what you would expect us to do. Trash is something that’s within us and, as a really hard working live band, we always try to stay connected with our fans and to tour as much as possible in order to give them the opportunity to see us live. There are quite a few bands that do not like touring and being on the road, something that we are more than happy to do. Now, if you put all of the above together, the quality you get in the end is pretty undeniable. Even if you do get haters on the Internet who say things like “Destruction have been repeating themselves for the last thirty years” the answer to such things would be that these people never properly listened to our records in the first place.
- Do you feel that as an artist you have managed to record the album that you will look back to twenty, thirty years from now and say to yourself: “This was my magnum opus!”?
Schmier: I think that such an album doesn’t exist. After such a long period of time even the most ultimate of albums turn out to have a few weak spots that you always feel the need to improve next time round. We have indeed managed to record some classics along the way but as far as a whole album is concerned that will never happen – you always feel the need to improve and progress with every new album, it’s a never ending story. Its part and parcel of being an artist I guess – that need to constantly push things forward. “Infernal Overkills”, as you mentioned it before, is, up to this time, the most revered Destruction album to date. We still love playing songs from that album live as some are pretty hard to perform. Sometimes there are songs that you really don’t feel like playing anymore but the songs from “Infernal Overkill” still have the right vibe and are filled with clever little ideas. Whenever we play them live they still sound pretty fresh in our ears.
- Well, a lot of credit should be given to you guys as you do tend to eject these classics with energy and passion whenever you perform tem live. Your band, together with Sodom and Kreator seem to have been at the right place and at the right time when Trash became massive in Europe and you all enjoyed the support of important record labels quite early on in your careers. With Destruction signed to a major label like Nuclear Blast after all those years it feels like we have pretty much come full circle. How do you find life in the music industry these days? Does your unique status as genre-shapers help you achieve full artistic control?
Schmier: Oh yes! I mean, back in the day, we had no control over a lot of things. Nowadays with Nuclear Blast we have a very good collaboration as people that work there are metal heads! They want to make the fans happy, they want to make us happy and help produce a product that one can proudly stand behind. Back in the day, labels would do stuff without even asking our permission and things continue to happen in relation to our old records; re-releases and compilations that we have no say over. Nuclear Blast is a first rate label that treats us with the kind of respect that all bands deserve. It took a pretty long time for us to get to such a stage. We left Nuclear Blast for a short period of time when we moved to AFM Records but Nuclear Blast is our home now. The boss there once offered me a lifetime contract, even though he was a little bit tipsy at the time (laughs). Personally, I would totally sign such a contract as it is a label from metal heads for metal heads and regardless of the fact that there are plenty of haters who would say: “Oh, they sold out by signing with a commercial label like Nuclear Blast”.
- Some people will always find something bad to say whatever you do Schmier, you know that.
Schmier: Exactly, but in the end this is the first label where metal heads work with metal heads for metal heads and where you don’t end up getting fu*king ripped off as a result. All the other labels we ever worked with still owe us money, there are ongoing court cases involved and other ongoing problems – that was never the case with Nuclear Blast. I am very happy to be part of the Nuclear Blast family as they are partly responsible for the current strength that can be found in Destruction. They are a label that really backs us up; we’re not the best selling band in their roster but they still chose to support us. Not everything is about money.
- Schmier, with “Spiritual Genocide” being almost two years old, are there any plans for a new album on the horizon? Are you guys working on any new ideas at the moment?
Schmier: We are currently in the process of collecting riffs for new songs. When it comes to the song-writing process, we will have a demo with a few solid ideas hopefully ready by the end of the year and the plan is for us to then record the new album sometime next March – February, positively March. A new album should be available for our fans by next summer, probably end of August. As you probably know, I just did the Panzer stuff now (note: Schmier is referring to a music project with members of Accept called The German Panzer whose debut release “Send Them All To Hell” will be out end of October and kicks serious ass!) which pushed all Destruction-related activities back a bit but that was in a way deliberate as we did not want people to get confused and lose focus of either releases.
- I was planning on asking you if you had any plans to record new Headhunter material in the future but that, I guess, will have a lot to do with what the situation with Jörg Michael is in terms of his health.
Schmier: Yeah, sadly Jörg is dealing with some important health issues at the moment and the remaining members of that band are not playing so much music anymore, so my focus was on the Panzer band. The guys are great, the music is still Metal but quite different from Destruction and that’s what I did it as, at the moment, it doesn’t look like there will be another Headhunter album out – but…
- (in unison with Schmier)…never say never!
- There was a time when we thought we would never see you again fronting Destruction but here you are, doing exactly that!
Schmier: One thing I definitely learned in life is to never say never!
- Well Schmier: thank you ever so much for taking the time to talk to us. I want to wish you every success, as you truly deserve it. People love Destruction all around the world and there is a very good reason for it as you and Mike have done one hell of a job writing good quality music over the years. I, for one, am really hoping for a few nice surprises with regards the next album.
Schmier: I think that now that we have a very good band vibe it will certainly influence the way the new album will feel and sound. There is a great feeling amongst our ranks and that is needed in order to then create some good music. We love touring and the experiences we get from it as they help us write our material – if you just sit home and do nothing you then you are not in a position to write good music. You have to see the world, you have to be out here and share that all important energy with your fans – then, and only then, will you know what truly works best for your band. Touring is inspiring for us.
- Cheers, Schmier.
Schmier: Thanks – enjoy the show!
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